The Nature of Value: An Environmentalist Challenge to Ethical Theory

Dissertation, University of Michigan (2002)

Environmentalists have argued that contemporary ethical theories have overly strict rules about what kinds of things can be intrinsically valuable. These rules make it impossible for many of the things that environmentalists care deeply about---things which are not rational, sentient, or in some cases, even alive---to be considered bearers of intrinsic value. In this dissertation I consider possible responses to this environmentalist criticism from within mainstream ethical theories. Using the value of ecosystems as a test case, I analyze what features a thing must have, and why, in order to be a possessor of intrinsic value on each of three ethical theories: wellbeing-based theories, Moorean theories, and rational attitude theories. ;I begin, in Chapter 1, by describing the different meanings that get attached to the term "intrinsic value" by both environmentalists and ethical theorists. In Chapter 2, I argue that on wellbeing-based ethical theories, many of the most popular accounts of wellbeing will allow ecosystems to be bearers of wellbeing and thus intrinsic value. I further argue that a "rational care" account of wellbeing is the most successful in this regard. In Chapter 3, I consider what the wellbeing of ecosystems would consist in within the framework of a rational care account of wellbeing. I argue that health is the sole constituent of ecosystemic wellbeing and offer an account of what ecosystem health consists in. In Chapter 4, I argue that Moorean theories can easily account for the intrinsic value of ecosystems without relying on the claim that ecosystems have a wellbeing. On behalf of Moorean accounts, I also respond to the objection that properties cannot be both intrinsic and normative. In Chapter 5, I argue that rational attitude theories can account for the intrinsic value of ecosystems without relying on claims about wellbeing or an implausible metaphysical picture. I sketch a general picture of the type of rational attitude theory that will be responsive to environmentalist theoretical requirements, and then discuss the problems and issues that would need to be resolved in order to have a completely satisfying account. ;Ultimately, I argue that while a place can be made for the intrinsic value of ecosystems on all three theories, rational attitude accounts do the best job of accommodating environmentalist concerns without incurring other significant theoretical costs
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